I knew the situation was bad when he called a second time. My brother doesn't usually have any urgent situations, but today was different.
When I finally got him on the phone, I asked him what was wrong.
“I'm sooooo fucked!”
His (vintage) iBook had been acting strange the last couple of days until this morning, when it decided that it would just wait on the boot screen endlessly. He sat and stared at that spinning beach ball in horror, wondering if all his data was being scrambled.
A few hours passed- The computer still wouldn't boot, and the local computer store suggested that he stop trying all together to stop putting stress on the drive, and to just bring it in.
I responded like a good friend (and brother) would. Calmly and cautiously upbeat. Maybe the computer shop will be able to rescue the last two years of photographs and documents that he's been saving to that hard drive. Maybe not. Either way it's going to be stressful, and expensive.
So, I'm writing this post for two reasons.
The first reason: I want to convince you of something that is important to me: We spend too much of our time and save too much of our lives on these delicate little machines to trust that they will safeguard our data. We pour our creative work and effort in and expect them to always work without fail, to never forget or lose anything.
On my laptop, I keep:
- ALL of the digital photos I've ever taken (about 10 years worth)- these are memories from college, vacations, adventures, relationships and events that I want to keep forever.
- My ENTIRE library of logic master recordings for all of the songs I've ever written.
- A huge file of song ideas that include lyrics, recordings and sketches
- All of my business files, graphics, blog posts, receipts, clients contact details, etc.
- So clearly, backup is not just a nicety for me. It is an absolute necessity.
The hard drive in your laptop has hundreds of tiny, moving parts. Parts that can wear out, break, and come loose. Hard drives fail, and when they do, you can lose everything.
We need to be vigilant about backing up our precious memories and work safe. Unfortunately, most people learn this lesson once they suffer a loss, when it's way too late.
The second reason: backing up doesn't have to be difficult. If you have a mac, it ships with a great program called Time Machine. All you need is a hard drive and Time Machine takes care of the rest, backing up your computer once or twice a day for you.
There are lots of programs for Windows that can do this for you as well, but if you're starting from zero, I'd suggest something entirely different: Don't keep your backup at home at all.
Think about it: If your house got broken into, flooded, burned down, etc., your backup drive would probably have the same fate as your main machine: total loss. So why keep the backup “on site” at all?
Even though I'm a mac user, I've been using a service called Backblaze for 3 years now. The premise is simple. A small app runs in the background on my computer and it is constantly uploading and maintaining a current backup of my computer on Backblaze's servers.
I can login to Backblaze at any time to view my files, and even download anything I need for free (this has come in handy many times).
In the even that my laptop failed completely, I could pay backblaze a small fee to ship me a hard drive with all of my files on it. Simple.
There are other similar services, such as Mozy and Carbonite that are worth checking out. I went with backblaze because they allow you to also back up any hard drives connected to the computer at one (unlimited) price. I've been happy enough not to want to switch.
Note: If you sign up for Backblaze using my link, I'll make a small commision. I didn't write this article to make money though, I am honestly a customer of theirs and my experience this morning with my brother compelled me to share the story with you. If you don't want to use my link, that's fine- I'd rather you get your backup in order than click my link.
My objective here is to convince you that this is a priority and to take action on it.
As someone who helps people live and work in harmony with technology, there is nothing more frustrating for me than telling someone I can't help the when their computer dies and takes everything with it.
At that point, all I can really offer is sympathy.
Finally, back to my brother: the computer shop was able to rescue his data and transfer it to an external hard drive. It took 2 days and cost over $200, but they got it done.
He learned about the importance of backing up his computer the hard way, and it’s my hope that you will do something about this before it becomes a serious problem.